We honor those who served. The patriots who fight for freedom around the world are heroes and it’s important we recognize them. Vietnam veterans weren’t always treated with the dignity they deserved when they returned home, so we’d like to take a moment to respect them now.
Here are 5 Vietnam veterans you should know:
1. Hector Rafael Ponton
When Ponton joined the Puerto Rico Army National Guard at age 15, he just wanted to go to their summer camp with his friends. He didn’t realize he’d decide to dedicate his career to the US Army, achieving the rank of Colonel. Among his service were two tours in Vietnam – one as an advisor in 1962-63, the other working in operations in 1970.
2. Lewis B. Larry
Platoon Sgt. Larry, a Black man from Mississippi, had 40 men under his command in Vietnam, the first major conflict which was fully integrated. As such, he had both Black and white men under his command. He told NBC journalist Frank McGee, who was embedded in Vietnam, “there’s no racial barrier of any sort here,” which led McGee to conclude “Nowhere in America have I seen Negroes and whites as free, open and uninhibited with their associations. I saw no eyes clouded with resentment.”
3. Raymond Emilio Torres
There are many different ways to serve. As a Navy medical corpsman, you might think that Torres spent his time in a hospital. However, he was out on the field in the middle of the action – and even injured by a grenade.
4. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
Davis had a distinguished military career starting with his graduation from West Point in 1936, where he was the only Black student. He served as commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen and became the first Black Brigadier General in the US Air Force. Out of 400,000 officers in Vietnam, only 8,325 were Black. Out of the 1,342 admirals and generals, there were only 2 African Americans generals – As Lieutenant General, Davis was the highest ranking.
5. Everett Alvarez, Jr.
Alvarez was an A-4 Skyhawk pilot who was shot down and captured in August of 1964 – and wouldn’t be released for nearly 9 years. That makes him one of the first pilots to be shot down and potentially the longest-held American prisoner of any war. Upon returning home in 1973, Alvarez went to law school (he had been the first in his family to attend college), then served as deputy administrator for the Department of Veterans Affairs and wrote two books about his captivity. He was recognized for his service with multiple awards including the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
6. Jim Capers
While working in enemy territory in March of 1967, Marine 2nd Lt. Jim Capers was injured by a Claymore mine explosion – and by the gunfire that followed. Even bleeding and with two broken legs, he directed his men in a counterattack and got them back to the helicopter evacuation that saved their lives. He even got off the helicopter himself on two separate trips so his men could be evacuated first. He is one of the most decorated Marines in Force Reconnaissance history with a Silver Star Medal, two bronze stars with “v” for valor and three purple hearts.
These Vietnam veterans embody the American spirit and the diversity that unites us all.